By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Right from the start, Skyline boys basketball coach Sonny Dyke could sense Handley was going to put a different team on the court.
The Judges decided it was time to share the ball and put a little more effort in on the defensive end, much better than they put forth in their upset loss to James Wood in last week's Northwestern District semifinals.
Knowing their season hung in the balance, the Judges started to break away from the Hawks in the second period Tuesday night and kept up the pace in the second half to go on to a 70-41 win in the Region II, Division 3 quarterfinals.
"The first possession of the game set the tone -- we gave up three offensive rebounds," Dyke said. "We just never put bodies on people.
"Now, [Handley's] athleticism had a lot to do with [the romp]. I think they probably played the way their coaches expected them to play all year. I think they have a real shot to advance through the region."
Paced by Robbie Lawler's 16 points, Handley (9-9) will next play Western Albemarle (18-5) in the semifinals on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Crozet. A win would put Handley in the state tournament for a second straight season.
From Jeremiah Wilson's pin-point passing (six assists), to Terrence Sloane's ability to position himself to rebound, to Mitch Smith's silky moves and pull-up jumpers, to David Carter's will to do whatever needed, Handley got plenty from its seniors.
"This could have been my last game, which is emotional for me, for all the seniors, and for all the players returning [next season]," said Wilson, who scored 14 points. "We didn't want the season to end. We know we have a 9-9 record and we know we haven't had a good season, but we want to finish things strong."
Handley executed offensively extremely well, making 25-of-45 shots (56 percent) from the field and 18 free throws. The Judges also outscored the Hawks in every quarter to keep building on their lead.
"We did a good job of getting everybody involved," Handley coach Tommy Dixon said. "There was an effort tonight and that's what I was happy to see. I think we've tried to play as a team, we just haven't been able to work it out [enough].
"They came in with a better attitude [from the James Wood loss] and before the game, a lot of the guys talked about not losing their last game on this floor. This is it, so there were a lot of things that helped them get through it tonight and play better."
Though a sophomore led them in scoring, it was the seniors who stepped up their play to allow the Judges to play another game.
Baskets by Sloane and Wilson in the final seconds of the first period had given the Judges their three-point lead, and Handley continued to pour it on once the second period began.
On a Skyline possession in the first minute of the second period, Wilson went wide to the far sideline to pick off a pass and throw it back over his shoulder as he was falling out of bounds. Smith caught Wilson's outlet and streaked in the lane to hit a pull-up jumper.
The hustle play by Wilson set quite an example. Of course, Wilson spent much of the game providing just the kind of spark Handley needed.
"Jeremiah played a very, very good overall game," Dixon said. "He did a great job on the defensive end. He looked for the guys and he looked for [his] shots."
A fadeaway 3-pointer by Lawler followed Wilson's hustle-play assist, and Dyke called for a timeout. The Judges would not be slowed, adding seven more points to send their run to 12-0 to begin the second.
A jumper by Smith in the lane sent the lead to 29-14 with 5:37 left.
Luke Pingley finally broke Skyline's drought with a putback, but the Judges already had momentum and planned on keeping it.
Handley led 39-26 at the half, as Smith scored 10 of his 14 points, Wilson got seven of his 14, Sloane six of his eight, and Lawler eight of his 16.
"It's always nice when you can share the ball," Wilson said. "We don't have a lot of individuals on our team. You know, we don't have that one star on our team so everybody has to know their role and do their job. For the most part, we did that."
The Hawks were down 13 late in the third before the Judges reeled off the last 11 points of the period to all but seal their victory.
Skyline hurt any chance it had to get back in it by shooting 3-for-17 from the field and turning the ball over eight times in the third period.
"We had to have shot a poor percentage [33 percent overall], as well -- no second shots, really, for us," Dyke said.
"It's a tough way to end the season."